THE FAMILY AS A DIVINE INSTITUTION
The family is a divine institution which has existed from the beginning. The injunction was given to our first parents while they were in a state of innocence, to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” The ordained means of obeying this injunction was that of marriage.
After the Fall the institutions of marriage and the family were in no way suspended; it was to the family that the covenant promises were given. It was not Noah only, who was preserved in the ark, but his whole household. The sign of circumcision was given to Abraham as a token of God’s Covenant. “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised.” In the New Testament the covenant promises are no less extensive. At Pentecost the Apostle Peter assured those who were “pricked in their heart” that the promise was unto them and to their children, and on three occasions it is recorded that whole households were baptised, baptism being the New Testament’s symbol of the Covenant blessings.
The true pattern for the earthly family is found in that family which in heaven and earth is named after Christ. The fact that God has condescended to assume a Covenant relationship as a Father to the redeemed is a source of encouragement and comfort to all the people of God. The divine love is declared by the Lord Jesus Christ to be far above that of human parents. “If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” Thus it is known that parents are required to be “imitators of God as dear children,” ever seeking to carry out their responsibilities according to the pattern God has revealed in His Word. Our Heavenly Father, in the instruction of His adopted family, adapts His communication to the ability and capacity of each member. All the children of Zion are “taught of the Lord.” “The sincere milk of the word” is given to babes while “strong meat” is for those who have grown to maturity.
It is through family life that many of the great doctrines of the Bible can be understood. The Incarnation involved the birth of Jesus Christ into a human family. The Fatherhood of God becomes meaningful through what we have learnt of human fatherhood in a human home. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” The love of God is illustrated for us by the love that has surrounded us from our earliest days. It is through the forgivenesses and reconciliations of the home that we come to understand the central experience of our faith, the forgiveness of sins.
God is to be acknowledged in all the relationships which He has ordained. Such acknowledgement is to be expressed in the family relationship by the observance of family worship, consisting of praise, prayer and the reading and study of the Word. The Old Testament patriarchs built altars, not merely as a token of personal dedication to God, but to introduce their families to the worship of God. The moral principle behind their action is to be imitated by Christian parents. For example, it is not sufficient to pray for children, but it is necessary to pray with them so that they may come to know prayer as a means of enjoying the Covenant blessings and as a special privilege bestowed by God upon His people.
RELATIONSHIPS WITHIN THE FAMILY
Husband and Wife
God created man male and female and, from the beginning, ordained marriage as a natural relationship of life. It was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, the increase of mankind with a legitimate offspring, the increase and building up of the Church with a holy seed and for the promotion of private and public morality and religion. It is an agreement between one man and one woman only, in which the parties solemnly vow and covenant with each other that they will live together in mutual love and faithfulness.
While it may not always be the will of God for a person to marry, it is lawful for all kinds of people to do so who are able with judgment to give their consent; yet in order that the important ends of marriage may be attained, Christians should marry only in the Lord, should cultivate mutual love, bear with and help each other’s infirmities, keep the marriage covenant inviolate and carefully avoid all mutual recriminations.
The husband is the head of the wife. He is called to love her “as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it.” Husbands are also commanded “to love their wives as their own bodies.” The wife is to be submissive to her husband in the Lord and is to help him in the care and instruction of children and the creation of a loving and God-honouring home (Gen.2:18; Eph.5.22-24; Prov.31:10-31). The exchange or confusion of roles in the family in ordinary circumstances results in God’s displeasure and in consequent unhappiness.
Marriage ought not to be contracted within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity prohibited in the Word of God. No law of man or consent of parties can make legitimate any such incestuous connection. In view of uncertainty regarding the interpretation of Scripture with regard to marriage with a deceased wife’s sister or a deceased husband’s brother, the present stand-point of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland is that no disciplinary action should be taken in such cases.
Though the moral validity of the marriage depends upon mutual vows of the parties and is independent of official administration, yet in order to prevent rash and inconsiderate connections and to impress the parties with the solemnity of the ordinance and the importance of the duties involved, the solemnization of it should be exclusively committed unto those duly authorised. Christian marriage should be solemnised in a religious service.
Marriage is a civil contract as well as a religious one. The marriage laws of the State, however, should not in any way contravene the laws of God, but should in all respects conform to them. In the event of such contravention Christians are to act in accordance with the law of God.
The marriage contract is for life between the parties concerned and is dissolved only by death except in the case of adultery or of wilful, causeless and irremediable desertion. These causes do not in themselves dissolve the marriage contract, but only give the right to the innocent party to demand that it shall be dissolved by competent authority. After the divorce has been regularly obtained on Scriptural grounds, it is lawful for the innocent party to marry another as if the offending party were dead. (Confession of Faith, ch. 24 para. 5)
In cases where the civil authority grants a divorce upon any grounds other than those allowed by the Word of God, it is the duty of all Christians and Church courts to obey God rather than men, and consequently, regard such unscriptural divorce as null and void; and if the parties in a marriage unrighteously dissolved marry again, they are to be regarded as living in the sin of adultery. In counselling people who have become involved in immoral relationships it is the duty of the Church to show the compassion of Christ. The motive behind any disciplinary action necessary must be to “restore such a one in the spirit of meekness.”
Since God created man “male and female,” (Gen.1:27) sexuality is an integral part of our nature and is therefore not to be denied, but affirmed as good and positive (1Tim.4:4). Its expression, however, must be within God’s order and plan. Abuse or misuse of it will distort our humanness and bring judgment from God. Such abuses include adulterous and pre-marital sexual relationships, both forbidden in the Scriptures (Exod.20:14; Gen.39:7-9). Homosexuality is a grave perversion of human sexuality and is expressly condemned as unnatural in the Word of God (Rom.1:26,27). While the Church must condemn all such forms of sin, it is a Christian duty to show the love of Christ to all who repent and to offer them patient help towards overcoming their sin in the strength which Christ provides. It should also be remembered that sexual activity is not the centre of our experience and that it is possible for us to be fulfilled as persons outside marriage. It is as men and women made in the image of God and restored to fellowship with Him through Christ that we are fulfilled, and not as married or unmarried.
Parents and Children
Christian parents are bound to provide for the material needs of their children (1 Tim.5:8) and to see that they obtain a suitable education. The earliest and most important educational institution is the home, where children are taught, by precept and example, the foundations and principles of godly living (Deut.6:6-9; Ps.78:2-7; Prov.22:6). In view of the fact that much of the instruction in State schools is based on a philosophy which gives little place to God, parents should be careful to ensure that their children are trained to understand everything from a biblical viewpoint. Such training will include a continual evaluation and, if need be, correction of what is taught in school, or, where necessary and possible, the establishment of Christian schools controlled by parents.
Parents are bound to dedicate their children to God, pray for them that they may be renewed by the Holy Spirit and so brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the Gospel, instruct them in the Christian Faith, set them a good example and direct and encourage them to make a public profession of their faith in Christ. Children are bound to honour and obey their parents in the Lord. All relationships within the family must be subject to the lordship of Christ.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE FAMILY AND STATE
The family is the basic and essential unit in society, and when the family unit is maintained and the marriage bond held in honour, this is then reflected in a strong and happy society. However, when family life is held in scant regard, and when marriage is viewed, not as God’s ordinance, but as a social convenience, the structures of society will totter and ultimately crumble.
As it is the duty of the State to create the conditions necessary for a stable society and to maintain the same, the State must therefore promote and encourage family life. This should be reflected in its various laws affecting the family. Likewise, the family, should recognise its responsibility to the State and seek to fulfil the obligations laid upon it.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE FAMILY AND THE CHURCH
The relationship between the family and the Church should be mutually beneficial, each making a contribution to the well-being of the other. The Church should recognise the family as her basic unit and seek to foster religion within the home. Care should be taken that the various activities in which the members of the family engage do not destroy its unity but rather draw the members more closely together. In turn, the family should recognise the duty of gathering together with the people of God for corporate worship and as a witness to the world.
The Christian family functioning as a unit should be a blessing to the world. Believers are the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth” and to families, that are separated unto God, the assurance is given, “I will make them and the places round about My hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.”